Bodies Bodies Bodies and spotlight on Rachel Sennott first published by Sight and Sound, Sept 2022
Review: In the slasher subgenre, it is the younger generation and their peculiar anxieties which tend to be put under the knife – for its main characters are typically high school pupils or university co-eds, cut off in their prime while on the threshold of adulthood, or else surviving their youth both triumphant and traumatised. The subgenre may be most associated with the Seventies and especially the Eighties, spearheaded by pioneering entries like Bob Clark’s Black Christmas (1974), John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th (1980) and Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) – but it has continued to renew itself in successive (and successively different) generations, chronicling, over the decades, the changes in adolescent or young adult culture and mores. Wes Craven’s Scream (1995), for example, examined a video generation of teens reared on endless rewatches of Halloween who are self-consciously savvy about the rules of the genre being reinvented around them, and it helped set the postmodern tone for the next lustrum of horror. A decade and a half later, Joseph Kahn’s Detention (2011) showed Nineties-worshipping late millennials trying to piece back together their identities from the super-fast flotsam and jetsam of a post-postmodern information age. And now, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s ‘requel’ Scream (2022) follows the children of the original Scream films’ characters as they attempt variously to escape or recreate their parents’ legacy in a whole new generation, while Halina Reijn’s Bodies Bodies Bodies (2022), though less reductively self-reflexive about the subgenre and its place in modern horror than the latest Scream, offers a far more incisive dissection of Gen Z.
Bodies Bodies Bodies opens in fact with just two bodies – for Bee (Maria Bakalova) and Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) are locked in a tongue-swirling, lip-biting kiss, surrounded by trees, birdsong and other signs of a world unplugged. Yet if this seems a moment of arresting intimacy and close connection, the effect is immediately undermined by a cut to the same pair in an SUV, deeply absorbed in their respective smartphones. Sophie is bringing her new girlfriend to meet her old friends in an opulent mansion in the middle of nowhere. This is a toxic environment, not just because Sophie, fresh out of rehab, is now surrounded by copious quantities of booze and coke and edibles and Xanax, but also for the tangled, often fraught history that she shares with affluent, obnoxious David (Pete Davidson), scatty Alice (Rachel Sennott), approval-seeking actress Emma (Chase Sui Wonders) and class-conscious Jordan (Myha’la Herrold). Another friend, Max, has gone mysteriously AWOL, and Bee and the older ‘vet’ Greg (Lee Pace) – the only outsiders to this established group – find themselves quickly having to catch up with its destructive dynamics.
Focusing on working-class Bee as she struggles first to find her place in this dysfunctional coterie, and then to survive the night, Reijn’ second feature (following Instinct, 2019) plays out as both parlour game and murder mystery. For that night the seven will play Bodies Bodies Bodies, a variant on murder in the dark that always brings tensions and trust issues bubbling to the surface – but as a hurricane raging outside brings the lights and wifi down, and as one of their number turns up very literally dead with a bloody slash to the throat, the rest will find this game brought to life, with a killer – or killers – in their midst, treachery at every turn, and the cadavers quickly piling high. Stripped of the group chats and podcasts, the Twitter and TikTok that define them, these young people are confronted with their unmediated selves, and no one will come out looking pretty.
“It’s okay to feel nervous,” Sophie tells Bee. “That’s part of the fun.” Sure enough, for all the paranoia-inducing tensions, brutal recriminations and bloody body count of Bodies Bodies Bodies, it is also very funny, wittily nailing with every perfectly pitched line of dialogue these characters’ vanity, viciousness and vapidity. Here it takes a solitary death to bring out the very worst in this already intoxicated, aggressive circle, and as their lies, betrayals and impostures are revealed one by one, these so-called BFFs will be surprisingly quick to tear each other apart. As a whodunnit, it will certainly keep viewers guessing, but it also entertainingly skewers these Zoomers’ disconnection from both truth and reality itself, as they each reinvent and embody their own slasher.
Synopsis: Somewhere in present-day America, five friends and two relative strangers gather at a remote mansion for a weekend of drugs and debauchery. These Zoomers’ already fraught murder mystery game turns more serious as someone is actually killed, and the others race to identify the culprit and survive each other.
Spotlight on Rachel Sennott
Spotlight on Rachel Sennott: It was while studying acting at NYU Tisch that Rachel Sennott discovered her flair for open mic comedy, and ever since acting and comedy have become closely intertwined parts of her performance. She developed her comic persona – a messy Zoomer navigating the dating scene in a tough economy – for the alt stand-up scene as well as on Twitter, and was quick, as an early adopter of front-facing camera comedy, to take advantage of Instagram Live during the Covid-19 lockdowns.
At the same time she was acting in more established formats. There were student shorts at university (including the lead rôle in Emma Seligman’s 2018 short Shiva Baby, which would eventually be expanded into Sennott’s breakout feature rôle), an appearance in the HBO series High Maintenance (2018), a lead rôle with Ayo Edebiri in Comedy Central’s cable series Ayo And Rachel Are Single (2020), and a recurring part in ABC’s sitcom Call Your Mother (2021).
Curiously, in both her first two features – Olivia Peace’s Tahara (2020) and Seligman’s Shiva Baby (2020) – Sennott plays a queer Jewish woman at a funeral reception. In the latter, Sennott offers a masterclass in cringe-inducing comic tension as her character Danielle, struggling to keep her different identities (bisexual, dropout, call girl) closeted, cracks under the pressure of keeping up appearances on a home turf that she cannot quite leave behind. And in Halina Reijn’s Bodies Bodies Bodies (2022), Sennott transforms the hopelessly dippy Alice from mere comic side character to the film’s most memorable element of klutzy chaos. Now in well-deserved demand, Sennott perfectly embodies Generation Z’s post-ironic, sex-positive attitude on screen.
strap: Halina Reijn’s hilarious slasher-cum-satire exposes Gen Z to the unfiltered ugliness of its unmediated self